That sketchy van is back in town. You know, the one with New Jersey plates, mushrooms and wizards painted on the side and the “Free Candy” bumper sticker. And as usual, there’s more smoke pouring from the tinted windows than from the tailpipe. That can only mean Monster Magnet is back to drop more of their spaced-out, stoner-themed hard rock to conjure the era of bongos, free love and lava lamps. Coming off 2010s masterful Mastermind release, Dave Wyndorf and company had some big sandals to fill and while Last Patrol doesn’t quite equal that album’s hard rock bliss, it’s another top-notch platter mixing their endearingly zany, psychedelic space rock with greasy biker metal. There are huge rockers, wacked-out ballads, more hilariously oddball lyrics than you can shake a bong at and slick, memorable song craft. That’s something Mr. Wyndorf has over 95% of the stoner hordes: serious writing chops which he backs up with a winningly off-the-cuff, tongue-in-cheek charm. Fun, funny, edgy and a wee bit scuzzy, Last Patrol has all the elements of classic Monster Magnet, and showcases all the different sides of the band in glorious Technicolor.
Those familiar with the Magnet sound will warm instantly to the dark, moody flavor of self-aware quasi-ballads like ” I Live Behind the Clouds” and “Paradise,” both of which convey more feeling and emotion than the typical stoner fare, and all without relying on dull, recycled Sabbath riffs pushed through an industrial Fuzzifier. There’s a sincere warmth to the songs and Wyndorf’s vocals, and despite the strangeness of the lyrics, they remain oddly applicable to everyone’s life. When things kick into high gear on the title track, “Hallelujah” and especially “End of Time,” they prove quite capable of mucho machismo and one can easily imagine these tunes cranking in the clubhouse of the Sons of Anarchy. Yep, this stuff almost requires you to have a beer in one hand, whiskey in the other and a go-go dancer on your lap.
Then there are the weird tunes that go off and do their own thing, like the surprisingly doomy and epic cover of Donovan‘s “Three Kingfishers” which could almost fit on a Candlemass album; and the bongo-heavy, laid back, hippie charm of “The Duke of Supernature” which exudes coolness while entertaining with bizarre lyrics you’ll want to repeat, but no one will understand.
There are a few hiccups, but they aren’t album killers. The title track is a tasty, straight-forward hard rock ditty with some deadly riffs, but it loses momentum, gets overly drawn-out and repetitious before launching into a long-winded space jam session. While the jam itself is pretty enjoyable, the song goes on too long and overstays its welcome. The close out track “Stay Tuned” is more of a spoken word piece than an actual song, and despite Dave providing all sorts of functionally useful nuggets of wisdom, there isn’t a whole lot going on from a music perspective. Lastly, this is a more subdued album overall than Mastermind and it left me longing for more adrenaline and less reflection and introspection.
As usual, Wyndorf and his antics are the centerpiece of the music. He is alternately a storyteller, sage, town drunk and village idiot and all these alter-egos have something interesting to say. Though he’s not the most gifted of vocalists, he has a unique style and he’s the perfect front man for this type of music. He’s edgy, cocksure and comes across as shady and pretty damn sleazy. As you listen to him deliver his lines, you get the feeling he’d bang your sister and steal your stash without thinking twice. On top of that, few musicians inject as much of their personality into their music as he does. His restrained delivery on “I live Behind the Clouds” sounds wounded and vulnerable, while on tunes like “End of Time,” it’s clear he’s coming to beat some wholesale ass.
The band has three guitarists and you’d think theirs would be a busy, full sound, but it doesn’t end up that way and a lot of Last Patrol actually sounds stripped-down and open. Though the loss of long-time lead guitarist Ed Mundell is felt, Wyndorf, Phil Ciavano and new lead Garrett Sweeny do their best to keep the band’s sound intact and at times this even sounds like a return to the trippy grooves of Superjudge. They come up with consistently interesting riffs that skirt the edges of the original Sabbath template without falling into the typical stoner troupes.
This won’t rock your noggin quite as hard as the last album, but it’s another a high-quality release by the Magnet. Catchy writing, personality and a sense of humor go a long way and Last Patrol has them all in spades. Now get in the van and inhale deeply!